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Published: Friday, 10/2/2009

Merkel's new term

DESPITE having been at the G-20 summit in the United States just two days before, German Chancellor Angela Merkel won her country's general elections last Sunday.

Her party did not do especially well compared to the 2004 elections, but she won because she will now have the coalition government that she wants, as opposed to the one she sometimes found constricting during her first term as chancellor.

While the similar absence of a candidate would be unthinkable in an American presidential contest, the Germans are different. Party counts for much more there than in America. Furthermore, for the German chancellor to be seen in meetings with the likes of President Obama and Russian President Dmitry A. Medvedev means a lot. It signifies to Germans that their country is fully recognized for the size of its economy and its preeminence, in Europe and in the world.

How far it has come since World Wars I and II, and since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and reunification occurred in 1990.

Ms. Merkel's Christian Democratic Union polled the lowest that it had since 1949, but so did its former grand coalition partner and rival, the Social Democratic Party. One of her likely new partners will be the Free Democratic Party, out of government for a decade now. Another will be the CDU's traditional partner, the Christian Socialist Union of Bavaria.

The realignment should make little difference in relations with the United States. Germany still has an 8.5 percent unemployment rate, but seems to be coming out of the global economic recession more quickly and more healthily than America. It put in place a $120 billion stimulus package and has a budget deficit. Its government is not hesitating to regulate Germany's banks and financial houses with a firmer hand.

Germany has supported the United States in Afghanistan since the beginning of the war, although it is unpopular with the German public. Ms. Merkel is unlikely to pull Germany's 4,200 troops out of Afghanistan or increase their number unless she sees a change of course in Washington.

The United States should see Ms. Merkel's victory and upcoming secure term as a helpful development for U.S. interests. Neither political instability nor an odd-couple coalition in that powerful country is to America's benefit.

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